14 Graphic Design Skills That Will Get You Hired

Do you want to become a designer? Or simply looking to find out what makes a qualified candidate? Then you ought to know about these 14 essential graphic design skills!

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August 31, 2023

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Whether you’re looking to grow your designer career or want to hire the best freelance designer for your business, this is for you. Learn about the most vital graphic design skills that each designer should master

The graphic design market is huge right now. In 2023, it’s valued at over $43.3 billion, with 265,000 designers working in the US alone. 

Aside from those with a formal education, there are many who venture into professional design after taking a couple of graphic design courses or reading a book about design. More often than not, these designers lack the essential skills needed to deliver professional graphics (no matter how talented they are). 

On the other hand, even those who studied design sometimes lack essential skills that you can only develop by working regularly (e.g. some soft skills for graphic designers are especially important, as we’ll discuss later). 

So, before you hire your next designer, or decide to make a career in graphic design, be sure you know what each designer should have. On this graphic design skills list we’ve included both vital technical skills, as well as soft skills designers need to work effectively in a team.

Curious to know what they are? Keep reading!

Essential graphic design tools

Let’s start with the most essential skills: the ones you need to actually design

Whether you focus exclusively on digital design, or also create graphics for use in the real world, the days of pen and paper are long gone. There are lots of different design programs but hiring managers will generally ask for skills in some of these most popular ones.

So, try to master at least a couple of them!

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1. Adobe Photoshop

Photoshop is one of the most widely used design programs. This raster graphics editor allows you to work on a range of design projects, from photo manipulation to digital painting.

While there are some great free options, a professional designer needs a professional program. Photoshop used to be available as a boxed copy which cost around $700, but now you can use this design software by subscribing to Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $10 per month.

2. Adobe Illustrator

Illustrator is another major brand name in the design industry, that you’ve probably heard of even if you haven’t used it yourself. This vector graphics editor and design program is used for a variety of digital and print production graphics. Illustrator is better suited for logo design and graphical illustrations, while Photoshop should be your choice for photo editing and photo-based graphics.

If you’re wondering “do graphic designers need drawing”, the answer is yes and no. While illustration is a specific skill that often also requires specific tools (digital drawing pad), many designers also “draw” digitally with a pen tool. Adobe Illustrator is one of the most popular programs for drawing projects.

Adobe Illustrator is only available via subscription and costs $19.99 per month. If you’re looking to improve you can also download a 7-day free trial version.

3. Sketch

Sketch is one of the most popular programs used for web design, like user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design.

UI and UX design are very specific types of graphic design, so don’t expect them listed in every job description. Still, bear in mind that web design is generally paid more than other types of graphic design so if you’re looking to make more money, these are definitely the skills you should work on!

It’s important to know that Sketch only works on MacOS. So, while it’s without doubt one of the most useful skills for graphic designers, if you don’t use, or intend to use a Mac, consider building your graphic design expertise in another program.

4. Adobe InDesign

The last design software from the Adobe Creative Suite you should definitely try to master is InDesign. It’s a desktop publishing and typesetting program.

InDesign is more complex than QuarkXPress (a similar software we talk about in the “Other skills” section). So if you’re just starting out as a print designer, it may not be the most beginner-friendly option. However, it’s compatible with more operating systems.

Knowledge of basic design principles

We’ve covered the basic graphic design skills in the technical department. But what about the theory? As we’ve already mentioned, you don’t need to have a formal to have a successful graphic design career.

Nonetheless, a basic understanding of some key graphic design principles is a must for anyone with a graphic design job. Knowing why something works will also help you improve your visual communication skills, allowing your designs to fulfill their intended purpose with greater efficiency.

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5. Alignment and Balance

The alignment of different design elements is used to create the balance and stability of the overall design. Balance can be symmetrical or asymmetrical. The first concerns the even distribution of design elements, while the latter uses scale, contrast and color to achieve a stable design or create a good flow.

6. Hierarchy

Hierarchy is extremely important in professional design, for example when designing infographics. A skilled designer will know how to make sure that the most important design elements take the main focus.

7. Repetition

Non-designers might think that repression makes for lazy design, but this is actually one of the key design principles. It’s especially important for brand identity design since good branding requires repetition for visual coherence.

8. Color theory

Color theory is the foundation of sound graphic design. It’s based on the color wheel and concerns the different types of colors (primary, secondary etc.) and how colors are mixed (hues, tones, etc.). Graphic designers use color theory to create different combinations of colors, like contrasts or complementary colors.

Additional software skills

Professional designs rarely stand on their own; they are usually needed for a certain purpose. So some additional technical skills used for either publishing your designs or editing for a certain context can be very useful.

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9. WordPress

WordPress is perhaps the most popular free content management system (CMS), used by global brands such as BBC America, PlayStation, Disney, etc.

Understanding visual communication is critical, but knowing how to add your designs to the company platform can be a tremendous help to your team.

10. Word processing software

Text is one of the key design elements and although designers don’t write it, they need to know how to present it. This includes choosing knowledge of typography, but also might require additional skills in the realm of word processing software. For example, some knowledge of Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat is a very useful skill for graphic designers focused on print design.  

Not technically a word processing software, but related to the print industry is QuarkXPress. This print production software is used for creating and editing complex page layouts (e.g. for magazines and newspapers).

11. Coding

It may seem like a stretch for a list of graphic designer skills, but knowing the basics of a coding language like HTML or CSS can put you at a real competitive advantage over other applicants. Of course, this doesn’t mean becoming a web developer. You need to understand enough to be able to communicate with web developers seamlessly and perhaps have a basic understanding of what a certain programmer can or can’t do and design within that framework.

Other skills

As with virtually every other profession, some of the most important skills for graphic designers are those related to managing their workload and working as part of a team. Here are some of them.

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12. Time management

Speed of delivery is one of the most vital considerations for design clients. So, one of the best graphic design skills you can have is great time management.

Freelancers are usually able to manage their time however they like, however without great time management skills they might find themselves missing deadlines and taking on more projects they can realistically complete.

On the other hand, designers who work as part of a team need to have excellent time management skills to ensure that the different design projects they are tasked with are all completed in good time. This also includes problem-solving skills allowing you to respond quickly to urgent requests or tasks that might come up mid-project.

There are different project management software that can help you with that, like Asana, Monday, Trello or other Trello alternatives.

13. Social media

If you want to design for social media, it’s very useful to have a basic understanding of how certain channels work. And we’re not talking about just the technical side of things like image sizes or format requirements. You should also try to keep up with the current social media trends as much as possible so that you can better understand and respond to creative briefs when designing for platforms like Instagram, Facebook, or YouTube.

14. Communication skills

It’s clear by now that graphic designer skills fall into a broad category. Despite the common belief that design work involves sitting alone in a room waiting for inspiration to strike, the reality is that graphic designers often work in teams. They might answer to a creative director or project manager, but when it comes to actually creating the work they collaborate with writers, marketers as well as clients from different walks of life.

Not everyone (if anyone) of them will know the design industry jargon, so refined communication skills are really important to ensure that everyone stays on the same page.

When you consider “what skills do graphic designers need”, the importance of good communication cannot be overstated. Aside from creating a smooth workflow, designers often need to explain their creative decisions to others, which means you must be able to speak in a concise and convincing manner. 


What skills do you need to be a graphic designer? As you can see the list is pretty long.

If you want to become a designer yourself, you’ll need a lot of learning and practice before you can start landing clients.

On the other hand, if you were considering DIY design for your business, think again. Picking up a couple of graphic designer skills certainly does not make you one. And the cost of DIY design is usually bigger than you think. Not only can you end up wasting a lot of your time, but bad design can seriously affect your business.

Luckily, there’s no shortage of skilled designers nowadays. There are plenty of freelancing platforms, such as Upwork, Fiverr, and others. Design agencies are another way to get your graphics, but be warned that they come with a pretty hefty price tag. 

Finally, unlimited graphic design services, like our own at ManyPixels, mean you get access to a team of skilled graphic designers, and pay a flat monthly rate for unlimited design requests and revisions.

Check out some of our work, see how we compare to other design service providers, or book a demo consultation to ask us any questions. Or go right ahead, pick your monthly plan and start your subscription with a14-day risk-free guarantee! 


Having lived and studied in London and Berlin, I'm back in native Serbia, working remotely and writing short stories and plays in my free time. With previous experience in the nonprofit sector, I'm currently writing about the universal language of good graphic design. I make mix CDs and my playlists are almost exclusively 1960s.

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